It has been discovered that one of the gates into Jerusalem was the “needle gate” and that camels, to enter, knelt first.
As early as the 4th century, explanations of this passage have revolved around the gate in Jerusalem.
“Literally, the ‘needle’s eye’ was a certain gate in Jerusalem. The camel is taught by nature to stoop down when passing through a low place, and to walk on its knees. That is why it has padded knees, so as not to hurt them when it walks on them. It is easier, then, for a camel to pass through, because a camel can lower itself by nature, whereas a rich man can do so only by grace.”[ St. Anthony of Padua, Sermons for Sundays and Festivals. Volume II. trans. Paul Spilsbury (Padua: Edizioni Messaggero Padova, 2007), 301.]
Now I understand some take issue with this interpretation. In other words, they take issue with the existence of the gate and that this particular saying made reference to it.
But, I think the point is well taken in any case. We are reminded that the “humility” of the camel in lowering itself onto its knees in order to enter the city is a reminder to us.
It is perhaps not that the rich man is rich, so much as he is arrogant in his being. He has acquired much, perhaps by much work, and he has come to think of himself as not only better than others, but also as the creator of his wealth and position in society.
This arrogance or pride in accomplishment prevents him from seeing the truth. That he controls nothing, he simply moves tangible things around the chess board for a few years. In the end, he is placed in the grave alone and bereft of his things. He enters the next stage as naked and unimportant as the guy in the grace beside him.
I often questioned exactly what humility was. I found the answer in an unlikely place. Mother Angelica, creator of the ETWN network, and severe conservative Catholic nun.
I used to watch her shows from time to time, although I did not agree with her “pre-Vatican II” kind of take on Catholic teaching and practices. But one day, she was reading from a letter asking her the question, what was humility. I thought her answer was perfect.
She said, “humility is realizing that whatever you do that is found worthy of praise by anyone, is not your doing, but is the doing of God. God accomplishes, we are but the vessel.”
The rich can enter the Kingdom if they realize that important fact. And so can we all. Today let us be mindful of our successes, great and small as they might be, and recall that it is the God within us that does good. We have enough to be responsible for in all the things that are not good that we do.